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Rurutu (Austral Islands, French Polynesia)

Last modified: 2005-09-10 by ivan sache
Keywords: rurutu | austral islands | canton: france |
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[Rurutu flag]

Flag of the Rurutu - Image by Juan Manuel Gabino Villascán, 13 January 2004, after a picture taken during the opening ceremony of the Inter-Austral Islands Games, 2000

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History and geography of Rurutu

Quoting the website of the Presidency of French Polynesia:

Located at 22º26'S and 151º:21'W, Rurutu is 572 kilometers southwest of the island of Tahiti, and is the northernmost of the Austral Islands. This beautiful island has an area of 32.3 square kilometers. The longest part of the island is 10 kilometers and the widest part is 3 kilometers. Its highest point is Mount Manureva (398 meters).
Rurutu's surfaces are what are left of a volcano 9-12 million years old that was last active two million years ago. That activity made Rurutu a high limestone island with steep cliffs rising dramatically from the sea and caves and grottoes featuring stalactites and stalagmites. The coral reef that surrounded the island ages ago has become raised bluffs several meters high.

Pierre Vérin's archeological work has determined that the first inhabitants of Rurutu arrived around 900 AD. Excavations done at the village of Vitaria have uncovered a genuine village consisting of some 70 home sites. There also is a council platform. Rurutu's maraes used many original features, including a rectangular area covered with paving stones and a graded pyramid made of coral slaps serving as an altar, or ahu. Within the open area were several stones that served as backrest and small pits used for certain organic waste (nail clippings and umbilical cords...).
Traditions have been carefully preserved on Rurutu, particularly basketry and stone lifting. Stone lifting is a physical test for the best of the island's male and female athletes, who must lift progressively heavier volcanic stones from the ground to one of their shoulders. This popular competition is held twice a year, during the July Festival, or Heiva, and during the Tere ritual held at the beginning of each year when the entire population makes a sort of historic pilgrimage that consists of a tour around the island with stops at various ancestral and legendary sites. This island tour, an initiating experience for the young, symbolizes a taking possession of space and constitutes a very valued return to one's roots.

In 1769 James Cook became the first European to discover Rurutu, which was off the beaten path for other navigators and trading vessels. The Christianization of the island was set in motion in 1821 when some people from Rurutu survived a shipwreck in the Leeward Islands and were welcomed by the people of Raiatea. The survivors were converted to Christianity and, accompanied by two Sunday school teachers, returned to their birthplace to set up a Protestant mission.
To prevent a British expansion towards the Austral Islands from the Cook Islands, France established its protectorate on Rurutu in 1889, then annexed the island in 1900. The population at the end of the XVIIIth Century probably was around 3,000, but tribal wars caused the death of 80% of the population between 1815 and 1820. There were large migrations of people during the XXth Century between Rurutu and Makatea, Nouméa and Papeete, where several "Rurutu quarters" were created.

Rurutu's economic activities include production of woven objects, such as hats and baskets, and, thanks to fertile soil, intensive agricultural farming that produced 180.2 tons of potatoes in 1996. Other crops include taro, a little coffee, vanilla and bananas. Artisan work and agriculture create jobs for 71% of the working population.
Rurutu has a territorial airport for four weekly Air Tahiti flights. Passenger traffic to Rurutu increased to 10,477 in 1997.
The population of 2,015 (based on the 1996 census) is spread between three villages: Moerai (municipality seat), Avera and Hauti.

Ivan Sache, 21 August 2005

Flag of Rurutu

The Territorial Government decree of 4 December 1985 governing the display of the flag of French Polynesia stipulates that the flags of the archipelagos and islands of French Polynesia may be flown next to the Territorial and National flags.

The flag of Rurutu, as seen during the opening ceremony of the Inter-Austral Island Games in 2000, is horizontally divided white-red with a centered blue stripe of half the length of the flag, lying upon the red stripe and bearing RURUTU in white letters.
This flag is very similar to the old flag used in Rurutu before the set up of the French Protectorate.

Juan Manuel Gabino Villascán & Ivan Sache, 28 August 2005

Rurutu, XIXth century

As said above, France established a protectorate on Rimatara in 1889 and annexed the island in 1900.

[Old Rurutu flag]

Old flag of Rurutu, c. 1858-1889 - Image by Ivan Sache, 21 August 2005

According to the Flags of Paradise chart [brt96], the old flag of Rurutu (that is before the establishment of the Protectorate) is horizontally divided white-red with a centered blue stripe of half the length of the flag, lying upon the red stripe and bearing RURUTU in void white letters.

[Rurutu Protectorate flag]

Flag of the Protectorate of Rurutu, 1889-1900 - Image by Ivan Sache, 21 August 2005

According to the Flags of Paradise chart [brt96], the flag of the Protectorate of Rurutu is the former flag of Rurutu with the French national flag in canton.

Ivan Sache, 21 August 2005